TEST DRIVE | Range Rover Sport… Better Than Before?

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Having driven the previous Range Rover Sport many times and knowing its many  flaws, I had high hopes for this new model.

For a start, it’s 500kg lighter and uses 70% new components. It’s lower, lighter and more athletic than before and is no longer built on the utilitarian Discovery’s chassis; it has its own chassis adapted from the full-fat Range Rover. So in theory it should be very handy off-road.

Although it’s lower and sleeker, you still have to climb up into it, which has always been the appeal of Land Rovers. However, with the ‘Access’ suspension setting, the air suspension sinks right down and you can step into it rather easily.

Once inside, the entire cabin and interior around you is lavish yet robust and child-proof, and the ivory coloured leather seats in the top-spec ‘Autobiography’ model I drove were comfortable and looked just right. The back seats aren’t quite as spacious as those in the proper Range Rover but there’s still ample room for three adults. The optional third row seating is only suitable for kids.

It’s a pleasure to drive and the gearbox works well – you always have the feeling it’s perfectly capable to drop a gear or two to overtake, but also to cruise in eighth gear on a long journey and take everything in its stride.

The new one isn’t a soft ride, in fact, when the road gets bumpy and full of potholes, it’s pretty rough and choppy but is certainly much improved from the old model. It doesn’t flop over to the side when cornering hard; instead the air suspension keeps it flat feeling sporty and agile – a bizarre sensation when you’re sitting so high, although understeer is pretty diabolical when you push it hard and it doesn’t take much to get the tyres screeching!

The brakes look and feel very meaty, but then they’d have to be to stop this massive car. I’d imagine the smell after an emergency stop would be quite spectacular.

The only major aesthetic problem I had with the old Sport was the spare wheel cradle which was clearly visible and hanging down from underneath the rear of the car like a cow that had missed a milking. Thankfully now, it’s recessed further up into the body.

A problem I’ve found with this new model can only be noticed when darkness falls: it’s the headlights. From the driver’s perspective they are fantastic, excellent range and very bright, but from other road users’ point of view they are aimed far too high. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most oncoming drivers flash their full beams at you thinking you’ve forgotten to dip yours.

The base price of the Sport model and bigger Range Rover is £51,000 and £72,000 respectively. I really can’t see what an extra £21,000 buys you apart from the status and a significantly smoother ride but they will appeal to different people. The base HSE model is well equipped too so you won’t necessarily have to spend more on extra gadgets and toys.

But should you wish to, there are all sorts of luxury options available, from a vast panoramic sunroof and 23-speaker Meridian stereo to hardcore off-roading must-haves like steel bump plates, side running bars and even a recovery winch. A bit overkill perhaps as most Sports won’t encounter anything tougher than a gravel driveway in Essex.

Engines available are a 3.0-litre SDV6 or TDV6, 4.4-litre SDV8, or a meaty 5.0-litre petrol V8 if you prefer your MPG in single figures. The SVD6 achieves around 35mpg in the real world which I would say is acceptable from a car weighing almost 2.5 tonnes but my choice of engine is the SDV8 – it produces a beautiful V8 sound and blistering pull.

It’s a commanding car with go-anywhere, any time, every time capabilities and looks just right getting dirty off-road or cruising around the City streets. I think Land Rover’s biggest challenge will be trying to prevent the typical current Sport drivers from buying this new model. This car really deserves better than that.

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